Ya Gotta Work

Finding a job post-graduation is a group effort, but it’s completely up to you.

Megan Orr, Opinions Editor // Illustration by Christine Wei

Graduating from university is meant to be one of the most momentous experiences of a person’s life – a day filled with joy, a smidge of trepidation and an absolute smorgasbord of choices. It’s the first time you can finally decide, for real, who you are and what you want to do. But despite countless hurdles over the course of a degree, you reach your first real obstacle after you cross the stage: making a decision.  

Students have more choice than ever, but this can be both a blessing and a curse. In a 2015 post, Todoist Blog editor Becky Kane discusses the implications of having too many options and how overthinking can be detrimental to productivity, creativity and overall happiness. “Rather than empowering us to make better choices, our virtually unlimited access to information often leads to greater fear of making the wrong decision, which in turn leads to us spinning our wheels in a seemingly inescapable purgatory of analysis paralysis, all the while getting nowhere on our important projects,” writes Kane. This is particularly true for new graduates, who in a world of choice, often feel the pressure to make the right one.  

After four years of school, and the debt that often comes with it, students expect (hope) that a degree will lead to a job, or at least more work opportunities. This isn’t always the case though. With a Bachelor’s becoming increasingly standard, and job markets becoming more and more specialized, it’s no wonder new grads feel stuck. According to a 2017 CBC article by Nick Purdon and Leonardo Palleja, “the unemployment rate for 15-to-24-year-olds is almost twice that of the general population.” Purdon and Palleja write about how most millennials have to side-hustle just to make ends meet, and how disenfranchising that can be.

Anna Heiter recently graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Geography at the University of Victoria. Like many recent graduates, she has had difficulty finding work in her field. Heiter has accepted that the first job she gets won’t be her dream position, but doesn’t think she’s asking for too much looking for employment in her field. “To ask for a job that’s more than minimum wage after you’ve spent thousands of dollars for a degree, I don’t think that’s asking for a lot,” Heiter said. “I honestly don’t think I’m asking for much. I’d just like to be able to afford to live and have a job in my field, and have enough to have some savings leftover. Which at times I feel like is impossible.”  

According to a MacLean’s article by Jessica Robinson, about one in five young Canadians are “underemployed or working in precarious part-time jobs.” This can be daunting, especially when many places require at least a year or more of applicable experience for entry-level positions. “I don’t really know where, as a student, you would find the time to get that experience,” said Heiter.  

Unfortunately, skills alone aren’t enough anymore. As a recent graduate of the Communications program here at Capilano University, Lizzie Scott spoke about the challenges of searching for a job, and the anxiety it caused her. She admits she often felt discouraged during the process. “Not getting called back after applying was always really sad and then so many places have multiple interviews,” Scott said. “I felt like I was being quite picky, I was sending so many cover letters out there, but only for things that I thought I would enjoy.”   

Scott, however, is a bit of a unicorn when it comes to the post-graduation job hunt. Despite resigning herself to a lifetime in the service industry after many failed attempts, she did eventually land a digital marketing position at a startup company. They have flexible hours, a fully stocked kitchen, nerf gun wars on Fridays and she gets full benefits now that she’s done her three-month probationary period. She knows she’s lucked out landing the job, even though it’s a lot of learning on the fly. “I don’t have any experience in marketing, I don’t have any experience in communications, I was fresh out of school,” she said.  

It wasn’t truly all luck though. “They were really interested in hiring somebody for their personality over their skills and their big thing was they would train the right person,” said Scott on her current employer. In interviews, she was surprised by how much emphasis was placed on company culture. It was this that eventually landed her the position. “Can you get along with all these different teams, can you hold up a conversation, are you outgoing enough to fit into this open office culture we’ve got? I was so surprised by the sort of personality factor that came on top of having your education,” said Scott.  

None of this comes as a surprise to the folks at the University’s Career Development Centre (CDC). Manager, Nancy Ng, recognizes that this generation is facing a different set of concerns than that of their parents. “There’s a million and one different options. There are pressures on students, more jobs are requiring university degrees, the GIG economy,” she said, to name a few stressors. She observed that the future of work with AI and automation call upon a new set of skills, while making others obsolete. Ng doesn’t see this as an excuse, but rather just another obstacle to work through.  

“Nobody owes you anything, nobody is going to give you the answers, nobody is going to magically say, ‘I have a job for you, here you go!’ Nobody is going to hand you anything on a silver platter, so you really need to do the work in understanding yourself, your experience, what value do you bring,” said Ng. “The most important thing is: how do you articulate that to someone, and how can you convince and persuade someone that you can do that job, or that you’re the right fit for that organization.”  

Networking is not to be undervalued either, particularly in a competitive market like Vancouver. “With networking or informational interviews, you are actually talking to someone face-to-face. That gives them the benefit of getting to know who you are and what you are able to do,” said Ng. She reaffirmed Scott’s observation about the role personality plays in finding a position. “People will more likely give you a chance if they like you, if you’re personable, if you can communicate well and they can see that come through face-to-face,” she said. “A lot of what I say is, don’t look for jobs, look for people. Jobs don’t hire you, people hire you.”  

So, what does Ng recommend? Her coworker, Career Development Advisor, Sane Vatougios, stressed the importance of asking for help. “There’s nothing wrong [with asking] for feedback and [seeing] how you can improve,” said Vatougios. Ng agreed, “There’s nothing wrong with asking for help. You have so many services here [and] the best excuse you have is you’re a student. And people will generally be very open to taking you on and talking to you.” 

Despite days of feeling trapped, or at a loss, Heiter recognized that patience and perseverance are key in her job search. Ng reiterated the same sentiment. “That’s going to get you to where you are,” said Ng. “You’re going to get there eventually. There’s nothing that says you won’t get there – you’re going to get there.” She’s adamant, and very convincing. Do the work, and it will come. Start early, and don’t wait until the panic sets in.  

Ng’s main goal is to help students take a proactive approach to career development, rather than a reactive one. She stressed the idea that who we are and what we should be doing is already within us. Career development and management is a continual, non-linear process. “You don’t need to have it all figured out, but you need to have some sort of a plan, to kind of help get you to that next step,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be the next ten steps, but you just need to start somewhere.”  

To begin, you must start. Don’t overthink it.

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